Saturday, 15 April 2017

Unionisation in the 21st Century

Guest Blog by Elliot Jones, reprinted from Fabian Society magazine (April 2017)

Across the world, trade unions have brought together workers to defend their rights. Through collective action they fought for improved working conditions, higher pay and equality for millions of people. 
Not only that, they have been a key pillar of the Labour Party since its inception, providing a base of financial and organisational support. 
So looking at trade union membership in the United Kingdom today seems to paint a grim picture; it has faced a nearly four-decade decline, from a peak of over 13 million in 1979 to less than half that in 2017. 
Whether because of more stringent union regulations, decline in the manufacturing bases they traditionally drew support from or the perception that have become antiquated behemoths that are more concerned with party politics than workers’ rights; trade unions have clearly struggled with the transition to the 21st century. 
Yet as we look ahead to the new economy, trade unions only have more challenges to face. Perhaps the starkest is that of automation; while the steps towards mechanisation provided the conditions for their creation, this ‘fourth industrial revolution” may well be their undoing. With autonomous vehicles, self-checkouts and other innovations encroaching on every sector, as many as 35% of UK jobs face being axed in the next 20 years. 
This means a declining workforce for unions to draw on and those workers becoming less crucial to business, weakening the remaining bargaining power they do have. 
The second and more immediate challenge is the rise in unstable “gig economy” jobs. With over 900,000 on zero-hour contracts and 1 in 7 workers self-employed, up from 1 in 9 in 2000, increasing the idea of entire career at a single employer is becoming a thing of the past. 
This more fragmented labour market means that unions may find it more difficult to establish clear, long-term relationships and achieve bargaining power with firms on behalf of members who constantly move around. 
Further workers with rapidly changing circumstances may find it difficult to determine which trade union is right for them. 
So what can trade unions do to overcome these challenges? 
One possible avenue is adapting their negotiating approach. Rather than take a neo-Luddite stance and fight to protect jobs at all costs, the best path forward is working with employers to embrace the benefits of automation and growing flexibility, to make sure that workers receive their fair share. 
This would mean pushing for a gradual transition, ensuring workers are given realistic and funded opportunities to retrain and helping people plan for the future. A second solution may involve looking to the past. Reorganising into single professional unions that provide much clearer options for who workers should turn to in their sector and connect more personally with members in a particular sector. This would also help them seem less internally focused, while still allowing them to conduct important cross-union and party political action through federations like TUC. 
Finally, trade unions could look to the start-up world for a little inspiration. Many fields, especially those in the service and digital sectors lack dedicated unions tailored to their needs; through a trade union incubator, established unions could provide their wealth of expertise, support and funding to those seeking to establish a foothold in underrepresented areas and provide a forum for the development of future union engagement tools. 
With these strategies available to them and the suggestion union strength may have declined because they have achieved so much already, the future of trade unions and their cause may not be so bleak after all.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Parents Against Student Debt


Reproduced from the Intergenerational Foundation site

Students graduating since 2015 have had to swallow outrageous fee hikes and eye-watering interest rates on their loans, leaving many of them with more than £50,000 of debt that they will have to pay back over the next 30 years. 

Asking students to make some investment in their future is reasonable, but debts at these levels are already damaging lives. Moreover, this has happened while the government has made unilateral retrospective changes to the terms and conditions, and is trying to sell off the loans to private providers. 
Universities are behaving no better by showing “disgraceful arrogance” (according to some MPs) by upping fees for 2017 before parliamentary permission has even been given.
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Take a look at the small print:
    • Current students face interest charges at above-market rates (RPI+3%!).
    • Compound interest racks up monthly on student loans from the day they take them out. This means a current APR of 4.7%, adding around £200 each and every month to a debt of £50,000!
    • Some institutions are already raising fees beyond £9,000 a year to £9,250.
    • Loan repayments at 9% of income over £21,000 on top of 12% National Insurance and 20% Basic Rate Income Tax means an effective 41% tax burden even for low-earners
    • The government has gone back on its promise to raise the repayment threshold in line with earnings, dragging more low earners into repayment by fixing it at £21,000 for 5 years
    • Top uni pay has sky rocketed by 15% on the back of our kids’ loans.
    • The government wants to sell its pre-2012 loan book to private finance.
    • Average uni halls accommodation now costs around £141 per week, a 5% increase in the last year alone.
    • Maintenance grants to help the poorest students have been withdrawn, forcing them now to take larger maintenance loans.
Click here for more information about all these points

What can I do?

    • Join the movement to show your support 
    • Write to your MP to demand action to stop further fee hikes
    • Be a student-friendly voter and vote for political parties offering a fairer deal

What we’re calling for:

    • Stop loans increasing in real terms by pegging interest rates to true inflation
    • Make loan repayments more affordable by capping at a maximum of 5% of income over £21,000
    • Play fair with young people: guarantee the terms of both borrowing and repayment, and return student loans to the protection of the Consumer Credit Act
    • Show students value for money: make institutions open their books on how student fees are spent
    • Stop the selling-off of the loan book
    • Stop universities and/or private providers from increasing uni accommodation costs above inflation
    • Stop peddling the myth of the graduate premium, which promises unrealistically high salaries for graduates
    • Overturn the freezing of the repayment threshold

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Reorganisation of the NHS is well underway

The following is taken from an article published in the Huffington Post by Justin Madders MP, Shadow Health Minister



“NHS funding growth is much slower than the historic long term trend.”

“Real terms funding per person will go down in 2018/19 and 2019/20.”

“The public are concerned for its future.” 

“There is likely to be continued pressure on waiting times for routine care and some providers’ waiting times will grow.”

Finally, the statement “some organisations and geographies have historically been substantially overspending their fair shares of NHS funding” which “may mean explicitly scaling back spending on locally unaffordable services” will send a chill down the spine of anyone who works or is currently a patient in the NHS. 

They will know that services are already stretched to breaking point and this move to single out sections for further cuts could well push parts of the health service over the edge. 

We deserve better than the future strategy for the NHS being reduced to an exercise in expectations management."